Sunday, 30 November 2014

Book review - Alouette's Song, by Andrew Jonathan Fine


Inspirational fiction is traditionally couched in terms of a romance, with an occasional mystery. Alouette's Song is the first I've seen that combines inspirational with traditional science fiction. It should be an encouragement to anyone who'd like to write inspirational fiction but doesn't want to fit into the usual romance mould.

Viewed as science fiction, it's a strong piece of work, very much in the tradition of the early Heinlein. Purely on this basis I feel sure the book will find an enthusiastic readership. It's exciting, it keeps moving and it resolves very nicely.

Read as inspirational fiction, though, Alouette's Song really shines. Perhaps because that's a genre that appeals more to me, or perhaps because inspirational/SF combination is rare, or perhaps because it's so nice to see inspirational fiction based on a faith other than Christianity, but none of these things fully accounts for my reaction to it. It's a deeply moving and informed story of a young man's struggles with an aspect of his religion, and very, very well done. Although not Jewish myself, I found a great deal of it personally relevant and helpful. I honestly can't recommend the book enough on this basis.

I did have a couple of criticisms. I felt the four young protagonists were a little too perfect; a bit too superhumanly good and self disciplined and moral, a bit too wise for their ages. This was particularly the case with the violinist. There were times when I really wanted to hit her with a brick.

The other criticism I would make is that I felt there were too many technical terms used without explanation. Writing for a wide readership, one can't assume anything about the reader's education level. In particular the science was over my head. In a traditional science fiction work, of course, this is often the case, and one has to cut writers a bit of slack in that genre as it is sometimes not completely avoidable. However, the combination of this with some technical terms of Jewish practice that I also did not understand, and then the bowling terms - the combined effect of science, Judaism and bowling did leave me feeling like 'Geez, am I really that dumb?' Of course, if one is aiming at a particular readership, some of these concerns won't apply, but a reading population of people who understand all three of science, Judaism and bowling would be, I felt, a little narrow and I would have liked to see the Judaism and bowling made a little more accessible to the general reading public.

Over against this, I absolutely loved the use of the multiple points of view with first person. It was very well executed, and almost never did I need to flip back to check who was speaking. I particularly liked the way the villain was portrayed, saving him from being a cardboard villain.

Overall, I liked Alouette's Song very, very much and I look forward to seeing more from this talented author.

Alouette's Song is available from AMAZON.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Book review - Trial Run, by Ella Medler

The opening of Trial Run led me to expect a standard romance in the vein of Mills and Boon. The strong, clever, resourceful hero with his high-handed, masterful attitude, the ditzy heroine who needs to be 'saved' - and I might almost have stopped there, as I'm not a fan of the genre, only for the fact that the young woman had been portrayed as fundamentally of sound character. A woman who spends all her time acquiring skills such as plumbing and car maintenance, in order always to maintain complete independence, can hardly be the fainting heroine of a 1950's style bodice-ripper.

The central character, Amelie, was surprisingly complex for a work of this type, with a tension between her tough-minded independence and business acumen and the emotional immaturity of a spoiled schoolgirl. This tension fleshed her out into three dimensions, saving her from the flat banality of the traditional romance heroine.

I therefore continued with the book, enjoying along the way its pleasant, easy style and the drama of the action sequences which are a particular strength of Medler's, and was rewarded for my perseverance about halfway through, when the hero, in a surprising plot twist, re-examined his life and actions and experienced a change of heart, rejecting his high-handed and arrogant behaviour and emerging as a decent and rational man. This metanoia really defines Trial Run, lifting it from the mere romance into a really satisfying read.

There was rather more graphic sex than I like to see in a novel, however it was well enough executed and my distaste for scenes of this kind is one of personal preference. I feel sure that afficionados of the modern romance genre will enjoy this book.

Trial Run, with Medler's other work, is available from AMAZON.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Tabitha's Excellent Cooking Adventure - Shepherd's Pie

Today we are going to make traditional Shepherd's Pie.

Turn on oven to preheat.

Turn off oven. Ring up husband on the telephone, to expostulate about Mr Muscle which has not been wiped out. Extract promise of immediate return.

Peel potatoes. While peeling, listen to audiobook. Shout abuse at person reading audiobook: It's fucking CONSCIOUS, you bloody moron. He was CONSCIOUS. Not fucking CONSCIENCE. You stupid bitch.

Put potatoes on to boil.

Les Pommes de Terre qui se bouillent
 Mix vodka martini.

Le martini! Le excellent!

Drink martini and read some Agatha Christie.

Drain and mash potatoes, with various crap. Milk, butter, salt, pepper.
Ring husband again to demand his immediate presence re oven.

Listen as husband relates his adventures while cleaning the oven. He has rescued a lady in distress and her autistic daughter. Congratulate self once again on Getting a Good Husband, which my mother said I would never be able to do, because of having a Heavy Hand with Pastry, and being a bitch.

Brown meat. The recipe calls for 750 grams and I only have 600 grams. Meh.

Realise that have forgotten to prepare vegetables. Panic when cannot find capsicum. Accuse husband of stealing it.

Apologise to husband.

Chop onion and capsicum, crush garlic and add to meat.

Cook for some time, while reminding husband what a Domestic Goddess I am and how lucky he is to have me (in case he has forgotten).

The mixture. Take as directed.

Let dogs in from the garden.

A dog.

Recipe says 'drain off fat'. I wish! Pour some wine instead.

Reduce heat and add other ingredients. All kinds of shite. Who cares? Shove it all in. Pour more wine.

Now with added shite!

Recipe says spoon into pie dish. Bullshit. Tip it in straight from the frying pan.

Layer the mashed potatoes on top. Sprinkle with paprika.

Ready to go in the oven.

Oven it. Heave sigh of relief.

It was good. I think it could have done with a shade less thyme.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Guest Fiction - A short story by Jazmen Bishop

 Today's post is a special treat - a short story, previously unpublished, by writer Jazmen Bishop.


Stacey thought she had it all, but  boy was she wrong.  Everyone else looking at her situation could tell she really had nothing at all.  She had been with Darius for 4 years.  She absolutely loved him, and that’s where the problem began.  She worked as a bank teller and adored her job.  She made great money and loved the customers she met on a day to day basis.  Darius had promised her the world kids, a house, cars everything she ever wanted.  He at the time wasn’t working and this made him feel less than a man.   Over the next two months he slowly started talking Stacey into quitting her job and focusing on their dreams of a future and family. She was so excited. She thought this sounded amazing.  She went into her job the next day and talked to her boss and told her she would be quitting. 
Absolutely shocked the boss said, “Are you sure?” Stacey reassuring her said,
     “Yes I have a great man that wants to give me the world and I am ready to give myself to him completely.”
     Speechless the boss simply muttered,” Ok” and let Stacey go about her way.  Eager to start planning with Darius, Stacey rushed home.  Taking two buses as fast as she could, thinking about how bright the future was going to be the whole time.  At first things were great, Darius fixed her breakfast in bed, they made great love and he took her out and treated her like his queen.  He got a connection from an old friend and started working construction at a local site making 14 dollars and hour.    He got great hours weekly so he was able to provide for her and pay the bills and things were great. With only a few months of things going smoothly there began to be a great decline in their progress.  Darius began to be very demanding wanting dinner ready as soon as he walked in the door from work, he wanted her to fix breakfast and lunch made before he left for work each morning.  He wanted the house spotless and didn’t want her to talk to anyone else besides him, including her family.  They began to fall on tough times financially and she just wanted to help so they didn’t lose anything and so she didn’t have to put so much pressure on him. She offered to get her old banking job back but he refused and told her the only job she needed to be focused on was cleaning his house and making sure that he was satisfied in every way possible and then some.  She had no problem with him working but she desired her own so badly now that she wasn’t getting to bring her own money into the household anymore.  She no longer felt worthy and loved as she once had, now she just felt used.  She had also contemplated leaving but where would she go.  All of her family was gone, and it wasn’t like she was talking to them anyway.   When she began to fight with Darius about them she gave in to his request to not have contact with them because they didn’t like the things Darius was doing.  The family felt as if he was trying to isolate Stacey from them.  At the time she didn’t see it, but now that the signs were right in front of her she had no choice but to see what had happened.  She had 2 close friends who she had kept in contact with minimally and they were doing very well for themselves.  They had kids and husbands ‘of their own, plus their own businesses so she never wanted to intrude on them with her problems.  As if things weren’t bad enough, she was pregnant now, two months to be exact.  She had not told Darius, she didn’t want to make him mad or more stressed than what he already was.  Stacey tried her best to keep this a secret for four months and as she began to eat and crave more things she began to get bigger.  The insults began to get unbearable; he would call her a cow when she would go back for seconds at dinner he would look at her crazy when she would crave peanut butter and cheese.  She finally told him sitting down one night at dinner. 
     Look baby I have some news, “I am pregnant,” she said looking down at her plate playing with her peas with her silver handled fork. He seemed very happy about the news.  He looked up at her and grabbed her hand with so much enthusiasm in his eyes.  He hadn’t looked that happy in a long time.  Stacey was somewhat happy he had taken the news so well but she was still miserable inside. 
     Darius said, “Now we can plan, see aren’t you happy that you quit your job?  “Now you can stay at home and take care of me and the baby.” 
     Stacey looked up as soon as he mentioned staying at home with the baby and she said “I am going to get my job back.” 
     Darius looked and said, “Uh no, you won’t make as much as me so I don’t think that’s a good idea and now that I think about it says Darius that sounds terrible.” 
     She cried out “Well how am I supposed to be a stay at home mom, what is a stay at home mom do?” This was the last thing in the world that she wanted to be completely honest. 
     He said,  “You will figure it out and you have to figure out fast because I am not quitting my job anytime soon, and plus you will be pregnant who will hire you or even take a second look at you nobody wants someone wobbling around fat and pregnant doing things for them.  Sneaking food left and right because you are craving it.” 
     She took Darius at his word and although it made her sad she began to believe maybe he was right and fell into a deep depression.  Nine terrible months crept by, she had terrible morning sickness every morning.  She would crave food and then when she would go to cook it she would no longer desire what she had made.  She craved soda and cheese nonstop throughout the entire pregnancy.   She had terrible back pains that kept her up at night, not to mention the baby seemed to be on opposite sleeping schedules with Stacey.  At night when she was ready to go to sleep the baby would be up bouncing around from wall to wall in her stomach.  The baby would always be hungry right when she would get ready to leave the house to run errands or go to doctor’s appointments.  When she started having contractions the fake Braxton Hicks’ ones or not she was so excited she knew it wouldn’t be much longer before she was finally holding her baby, she was rushed to the hospital.  Looking for Darius she called and called him, but he was nowhere to be found.  When she finally did get in touch with him hours later he told her he had picked up an extra shift and that he would be stuck at work for another three hours and that there was nothing that he could do or say to get out of it.  She was furious and wasn’t helping the fact that   she wasn’t moving very fast through the stages of labor.   She needed to be dilated to ten before she could start pushing and she was only at a two.  Her labor pains were terrible, she just wanted to sleep and eat and those were the last two things the baby and the hospital were letting her do.  The hospital told her she could not have anything to eat until she had the baby.
       “What I haven’t eaten all day.”
     They simply told her to focus on her contractions and her breathing.  She wanted to call someone to come be there with her so badly.  This was the worst time she had ever imagined being by herself.  Having some nurse holding her hand through the difficult pains rather than her boyfriend and the father of her unborn child.  Hours went by and she spent the entire labor by herself and she gave birth by herself with no one there to congratulate her besides the doctors and nurses.  She never thought she could be so happy and so depressed at the same time. They were still between two names but since Darius wasn’t there anyways she didn’t care to have him have a say so in the end.    She named the baby Olivia Marie, after her grandmother who had passed many years ago but Stacey still missed dearly to this day.  Darius finally showed up that night at 1130 p.m. Stacey had given birth to Olivia at 2p.m. that afternoon. He had missed everything and wanted to do nothing but argue.  Stacey was exhausted and that was the last thing she wanted to do.  She asked Darius to leave because them arguing was too much for her to handle at the moment.  Livid to no end, Darius snaps.
“What do you mean can I leave I fucking take care of you and you don’t even do shit.  All you do all day is eat and sleep and you supposedly do house chores but damn every time I come home the house looks like shit to me and you always act like you are so tired from what, I am the one that is tired I am tired of you tired of taking care of you tired of you not having anywhere else to go besides up under me I am tired of having to do everything.  You don’t even have sex right you don’t even make me come I make myself come thinking about other women. You disgust me and I don’t want you to come back home with this baby you can just go stay somewhere else.”
 Flabbergasted Stacey was sobbing, “Just leave you dumb bastard just leave now she was screaming at this point.”  He left slamming the door behind him and making a ruckus within the hospital as he walked out.  The nurses were all in the office area on peas and cures in case they needed to get law enforcement involved.  The nurses came into the room seconds later and asked if everything was okay and if Stacey needed anything.  Very upset sobbing and trying to talk threw tears she tried saying no but nothing came out so she simply shook her head and the nurses walked out of the room giving her the space they could tell she needed.  She just kept repeating to herself that she couldn’t let her child live like this and she refused to have her child exposed to this.  She regretted even meeting Darius.   She wondered why God had done things the way he had and if she had done something wrong and that was why she was now in this terrible situation.  Frustrated and thinking of how to change her situation she slowly drifted off into a peaceful sleep.  She slept for hours it was the best sleep she had had in weeks and she loved it.   She woke up refreshed and didn’t hardly recognize where she was.  She knew however that she was ready to try to conquer her situation.  When she woke up she was surprised to see Darius sitting there with the baby and a nurse in the room as well. 
The nurse whispered to Stacey, “I hope it’s okay I let him back in he was asking about the baby and he has been her for about an hour just holding her and talking to her.”  The nurse smiled when she got a confirmation look from Stacey that things were fine.  The nurse smiling at Darius walked out the room to go finish her rounds within the hospital.  Darius looked at Stacey and smiled you are finally up sleepy head, he laughed he went to stand up and walk over to her with his black moisturized hands holding Olivia tightly. It was like he was a brand new person and nothing bad had occurred within them.  This scared her a little how he could just act like things were great after such a big blowup not too long ago.  But she assumed maybe he said things out of anger and stress and now things were going to be fine again.   I love you both he said as he gave Stacey a kiss on the forehead and smiled at her.  He looked at her and said sweaty are you ready to go home with our bundle of joy, Stacey very happy by the way he was acting simply said yes.  The doctors and nurses were more than willing to let her go home with the baby and with Darius.  Stacey had actually thought for a second that Olivia had changed him and that now he was going to be a better man after seeing his daughter and realizing that he couldn’t treat and act anyway he wanted with the mother of his child.  They got home and things were great for the first few days.  He was up helping her at night with the baby and making bottles cooking cleaning and everything.  By the beginning of the second week things had slowly dwindled once again and he was now back to the old Darius being very demanding and asking her to do everything once again.  So tired of the situation Stacey began to cry she didn’t know what else to do or where else to turn.  Stacey was beginning to be exhausted each and every day and there was nothing Darius was doing to try to help her with the needed house duties and Olivia.  Stacey was having to clean the house fix three meals a day for everyone change the baby feed and play with her and find time to have sex with Darius when he came home.  Getting sleep seemed impossible so that was always the first things neglected.    She was literally on E trying to keep up with everything it was just too much.  All Darius would do would be to come inside and play with Olivia for about an hour each day after work and the rest of the night he expected Stacey to wait on him hand and foot until  he went to bed for the night.  It was as if she gained two kids when she had Olivia.  Extremely exhausted Stacey decided to take a nap one day while Olivia was sleeping.  She hadn’t done any of the house chores because she was too tired and she hadn’t been feeling well.  Stacey didn’t know Darius was going to come home early from work that day.  He came into the house an immediately flipped out on Stacey in front of Olivia; he was throwing stuff and yelling at the top of his lungs.  Olivia was now wide awake screaming.
 “Why the fuck is the house not clean what the hell have you been doing all day and where is the baby why is she crying like that what you did you do to her?” He was flipping out about everything, “Why isn’t my dinner ready? What was this leftover crap you made me for my lunch today?  You know I don’t do leftovers I never do leftovers.  I want a new fresh meal made every single meal.”
He was furious at this point because Stacey just kept crying.   He whaled off and slapped Stacey hard as if she was a nasty fly he was trying to kill and get out of his house.  She couldn’t believe what he had just done and was pissed beyond words.   She ran off into the room crying, she locked herself in the room for hours with Olivia.  She kept waiting for Darius to leave or someone to come and save them but no one ever did and Darius never left.     He finally went to go lay down.  She was completely over everything that was the final straw to everything she could not take any more from this guy who claimed to love her.  She now had a plan to how she was going to handle the situation.  She was going to kill Darius.  She had all the details planned out in her head.  She had been contemplating this for some time and kept telling herself that this was too drastic and that things would get better.  Things never would get better and seeing how he acted just then with her was confirmation that he was just going to do what he wanted so she was going to make a stop to him and for good.   Now she needed to get all the details planned out and just sit back and wait for the right time to set her plan into motion.  She went to sleep that night feeling at ease and thinking about how nice it was going to be to slice his throat open.  She knew she wasn’t going to back out this time like she had other times.  This wasn’t the first time she had thought about killing Darius but every time she got those ideas, crazy is what she once called them she would tell herself that he was her heart and that things would get better but now there wasn’t much worse that things could get that she could still sit back and just continue to let happen she was officially through with his bullshit.  His shit talking, he thought he could do whatever he wanted, and he thought he could get away with it. The more she began to think about everything that had just happened the more she wanted to just go in the kitchen and grab the biggest butcher knife and slice his throat open right here right now.  She told herself to calm down and due to her daughter being there and still awake she didn’t want her to witness or hear anything so she told herself just to wait till tomorrow and to find another way to get him to hell where he belonged.    She went to bed holding Olivia thinking things will be fine after tomorrow.  The next day Stacey woke up bright and early ready to get things going the way she needed them to.  She got up and got them ready for a very eventful day with a happy ending she hoped, they both hopped on the bus to go to the store.  She bought food to make a superb dinner for the family that night she bought spaghetti and meatballs, red wine for her to take the edge off and some special ingredients to take care of her problem.   She headed home and cleaned the house superb.  Everything was in its spot it’s smelled like lemon fresh pine sol and dinner was cooking when Darius walked in from work.  She met him at the door and gave him a hug very surprised by her actions his face was amazed as if he thought she was going to be acting very different after their incident last night.  He came in and played with Olivia for a little while then started looking for dinner to be ready.  Stacey was on her ready tonight though she had dinner completely ready about 30 minutes after he walked into the house.  He was surprised to see that she had gone to the store.  Darius was feeling as if he had made her get into check with the smack he was feeling on top of the world and Stacey was ready things were working out perfectly.    She simply smiled and thought in her head if he only knew.  She fixed the glasses of wine first, then the plates to follow, piling his plate high with spaghetti and meatballs.  She was excited and had drank too much and had to tell herself to slow down, she wanted to savor every moment of what was about to happen.  He ate and kept complimenting her on how good the food was.  He looked up and said baby why aren’t you eating.  She kept reassuring him that she had already eaten while she was cooking the food and she just wanted to watch him get nice and full and talk about their day.  He began to talk about the guys at work and all the chaos that his day consisted of and she sat there patently listening to his every word sipping her wine.  When he finished eating she offered him more and when he was a little hesitant to answer she took it upon herself to make sure her man was nice and satisfied.  She made him a nice big second helping and they continued their conversation.  Once he could not eat another bite, his mouth was seeing the food and just refused to open. He told her he was nice and satisfied and she said okay and quickly did the dishes. He said I am going to lie down and get ready for tomorrow.  She asked him if he would wait for her because she was ready to lie down as well.
  “Well what about Olivia, asked Darius?” She looked over at Olivia who she had already fed and she was sure she was tired from all the running around earlier.  Stacey had just given her a big bottle with extra oatmeal in it to have her nice and full and at peace while she handled business.   
“She is fast asleep and she has been up all day so she will have no problems for a few hours so I can get some sleep with you,” Stacey reassured Darius.
She quickly finished the dishes and was ready to lay with her man for what she knew to be the last time.  They began to lay down and Stacey began to regret her decision for a brief second, at first Darius was declaring his love for her telling her how happy he was that they had decided to go this way with their lives and be together and how she would be a different place right now if it wasn’t for him.  All her hatred for him began to come back and she sat and listened as he began to down her.  
 He said, “Well I am about to fall asleep on you what did you put in this food he asked Stacey I am really tired now for some reason.  She smiled and looked at him.
  He was falling asleep fast, she looked him and said, “I can’t do this anymore and therefore I had to put a stop to this and to you. You think you can just talk to me anyway you want you asshole and then you had the nerve to put your hands on me last night with my daughter not too far from us.  Enough is enough.  You are so sleepy right now because I poisoned your meatballs.  I put sleeping pills and chemicals in them.  I hope you enjoy.  Your daughter and I will be fine without you.  We will struggle and do what we have to do before I let you continue to abuse us!”
 With nothing else to say but ready to see him go to sleep and never wake up she simply kissed him on his forehead, with tears in her eyes,  she sat and watched his eyes close and never to open.